Children, Parents, and Gender Non-conformity

By Alexandra

Like Ryan, more and more gender non-conforming children have been able to express their identity to their parents, and present themselves how they want to at school. Dealing with gender during childhood can be difficult because children are just developing the ability to articulate the differences between genders, while battling with their own understanding and identity. The American Psychological Association offers suggestions for parent’s dealing with a child who is gender non-conforming or trans. Although some of the terminology in their explanations is outdated such as “transsexual” their guidance is supportive for transgender youth suggesting parents do things like “Educate yourself about transgender issues.” Which is of course a very simple suggestion but staying currently educated is vital when these issues are affecting someone you love. They also offer reminders that “There is not one universal way to look or be transgender” and to “Keep the lines of communication open with the transgender person in your life.” I do not believe suggestions like this offer solutions to the struggle of being a trans or gender non-conforming person, but with a empathetic family, these reminders can be key for making transitioning a comfortable process.

Even if the family life of a gender non-conforming child is positive, other institutions such as school can make their expressions seem shameful. Karin A. Martin researched how early children are gendered. Starting in preschool, the separation and inconsistent treatment of boys and girls can be observed. Martin notes that “Children are physically active, and institutions like schools impose disciplinary controls that regulate children’s bodies and prepare children for the larger social world,” (497). So as a child understands how to freely express their body and identity institutions are also limiting them, which can create a feeling of shame as they begin to understand their desire is “wrong.” In a situation without supportive or educated parents a child can suffer as their comfort, which may rely on clothing or toys or a certain hairstyle, is taken away. Martin talks about clothing specifically, saying “The clothes that parents send kids to preschool in shape children’s experiences of their bodies in gendered ways,” (498). Clothing is an outward identifier for gender, especially in children and babies, so it is to remember when considering parts of a child’s gender identity. When considering the source of identity, Bussey states “many cognitive and social psychologists understand gender identity formation to result from a process of learning, cognitive development, and social reinforcement,” (qtd. in Fausto Sterling, 58). There are many factors and instances that can influence gender, and although institutions and family life are two of the largest factors there are also biological and psychological factors to be considered. Having a child that is gender non-conforming is not a result of something that went wrong, or a parental mistake.

When considering gender identity as a multi-layered part of existence, parents of a gender non-conforming child should consider how different parts of the mind and body might reflect their child’s identity. Anne Fausto-Sterling articulates this point in saying “chromosomal sex, gonadal sex, internal reproductive organs, external genitalia, and pubertal hormones are not direct determinants of gender identity” (44). Another interesting thing that Fausto-Sterling concludes about children is “children first develop sex and gender knowledge including the sensory and cognitive skils to make culturally ‘correct’ associations between adult activites and males and females […] But surprisingly, and often amusingly, at first kids do not think of gender as a permanent state of being,” (55). The socially constructed implications of gender are not as deeply rooted in children, as they have not had to deeply and consciously experience them yet. So their freedom and looseness with gender makes sense. In the video Ryan even uses terms like “tom girl” to describer herself, not cully clinging to one gender or the other. This exploration is in line with the idea that “… gender identity emerges. It does not suddenly pop out; rather it inches into the open one step at a time,” (54). By allowing a child to constantly engage with gender in an open way, their understanding of their identity later in life will reveal itself more naturally. Another thing to remember is that children are growing and learning very rapidly—their identity can change. When there is a shift or a move towards more masculine, then more feminine, then more masculine again, it does not mean the time spent with a feminine identity was invalid. Shifts and movements and changes in identity are natural. We’re all always growing.

Overall, it is great that more children, like Ryan, are able to express their gender in a way they feel comfortable with. But it is important to remain educated, and not forget there are many children who do not have the freedom to exist how they want. There are many adults who do not have the freedom to exist how they want.

Sources:
Anne Fausto-Sterling, Sex/Gender: Biology in a Social World (New York: Routledge, 2012), 43-69

“Answers to Your Questions About Transgender People, Gender Identity and Gender Expression.” American Psychological Association. Web. 28 Apr. 2016.

Martin, Karin A. “Becoming a Gendered Body: Practices of Preschools.” American Sociological Review 63.4 (1998): 494. Web.

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Representation in Fashion/Andreja Pejic Bio

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Andreja Pejic is a transgender model from Australia who has been pushing the gender boundaries in the fashion world since she was scouted at 16. First billed as an androgynous male model, Pejic often modeled in both womenswear and menswear. Eventually as her modeling became recognized she described herself as living “in between genders.” In my belief even the smallest bit of representation matters. An aspiring model may be confronted with having to check the box of male or female, once again, when neither feels right, seeing Pejic move fluidly through the fashion world can be comforting. Most recently Andreja Pejic identifies as a transgender woman. Her fluid movements around the fashion world have opened doors for the way designers cast models, and their intentions for their fashions. Since coming out, Pejic was profiled as the first openly transgender model in Vogue, this past year.

Currently there are a handful of modeling agencies that are exclusively for, or include openly trans individuals, including Trans Models and Apple Model Management. Increasing gender non-conformity in the fashion world, is an small step to increasing gender non-conformity in other places. If there are boundaries that are pushable, they should be pushed.

Intersex and LGBT

As an extended version of LGBT, LGBTQQIA includes the letter I for intersex. Intersex is defined as “a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male. For example, a person might be born appearing to be female on the outside, but having mostly male-typical anatomy on the inside,” (Intersex Society of North America). It is estimated that an intersex condition occurs in around every 1 in 2000 births.

Often, when a child is born with an intersex condition, their body is surgically changed to conform to male or female anatomical standards. Where as a trans person often has consensual surgery to confirm their gender. An intersex individual may not learn about their condition until adulthood. Each individual is different, they may decide to continue living as their assigned gender, they may have a desire to change. So, ultimately it is a personal choice as to how queer one’s identity is as an intersex person. However, as a group it is relevant for people who are intersex to be included in the LGBT umbrella, because of things like the oppressions they face based on gender, and the lack of representation and awareness about various intersex conditions.

The idea that intersex needs to be fixed is problematic and reflects the rigid gender binary that exists, especially in the medical world. Mark ad Pam Crawford give their firsthand experience with having adopted an intersex child, post-surgery, who no longer wanted to identify with their assigned gender. The medicalization of gender seems arbitrary to them as they mention “It took the trio [of doctors] about four months to decide which gender to assign [to their child]” (The Atlantic). In this article the normalcy is brought up “Most parents are disturbed by the appearance of the genitalia and request that something be done as soon as possible so that their baby looks normal.” The idea that male or female needs to be chosen, is further enforced by the fact that their is currently no other legal option for things like passports, or licenses, therefore it is not normal. The idea of normal is persistant. Cordelia Fine notes in Delusions of Gender “The developmental possibilities for an individual are neither infinitely malleable nor solely in the hands of the environment.”

three-gender-option-passportsA person is not mentally a male or a female based on their genitals. As Fine points out, “Once in the public domain these supposed facts about male and female brains become part of the culture, often lingering on well past their best-by dates.” Implying that our culture and our media has influenced our understanding of gender so strictly in the binary that it’s hard to accept things like “Intersex people exist.”

The science behind gender, is complicated. There are no pink or blue brains. Fine expresses the idea that their are differences between body, brain, genitals, chromosomes, etc, etc and any combination of male or female or other can occur, stating, “Genes don’t determine our brains (or our bodies)” She also focusses on the desire to show explicit differences between genders in scientific studies, a.k.a. the desire to enforce the binary. Which, of course, erases intersex identities, as well as trans identities as it suggests conformity between brain and body. Does an intersex person who choses to live as male or female have to identify as trans? No one has to identify as anything they don’t want to identify as. Intersex and trans are not synonymous. But does this mean intersex is inherently a queer identity? There is not one answer for this question, it is yes and no, and maybe. Queer identity is so personal that it’s unfair to dictate someone’s chromosomes or genitals in this group if they dont want to be. However, the oppressions interest people face are inline with other struggles of those other-ed in their gender and/or sexuality.

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Sources:

Cordelia Fine, Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference (New York: W.W. Norton, 2010)

“Intersex Society of North America | A World Free of Shame, Secrecy, and Unwanted Genital Surgery.” Intersex Society of North America | A World Free of Shame, Secrecy, and Unwanted Genital Surgery. Web. 19 Apr. 2016.

Greenfield, Charlotte. “Should We ‘Fix’ Intersex Children?” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company. Web. 19 Apr. 2016.

Since today is Trans Visibilty Day, I wanted to discuss a short video:

“7 Things You Should Never Ask a Trans (or Gender Non-Conforming) Person” with Hari Nef. In the video Hari Nef, a transgender actress, model, and writer, discusses her list of forbidden questions. Because this video was intended for Teen Vogue, it is very accessible to a large audience but is still educational and contains useful reflections. I would like to provide further commentary on Nef’s list.

1. Are you a boy or a girl?

This question may seem harmless, considering it could be used to determine the correct pronouns. However, if someone is non-binary, presents differently than they identify, or somehow doesn’t align with your assumptions, “Are you a boy or a girl?” reveals itself as an invasive question, targeted at putting someone into one of the two binary boxes that we have been conditioned to. With genuine respect, it is appropriate to ask someone which pronouns they use. “Which pronouns do you use?” is free of assumption. “Are you a boy or a girl” exemplifies an assumed sex-gender-pronoun correlation, which does not exist.

2. Have you had all the surgeries or will you fully transition?

Even with personal relationships and friendships asking anyone “What kind of surgeries have you had?” is usually not appropriate. This question, in simple etiquette, should not be asked. This shows how entitled people may feel to information about trans bodies. When someone is outside of the “sex = gender” binary, they do not require detailed explanation for existing.

3. So does this mean you’re gay now?

This question is equating sexuality with gender identity. The two are not correlative. A person’s sexuality is an identifier that they do not have to link to a particular gender (of their own or their partner’s).

4. What’s your real name?

Like the surgery question, this is a matter of respect. Trans and gender non-conforming people do not owe any more personal information than gender conforming people. The right to someone’s previous identity is irrelevant in almost every situation. One’s “real name” is the name they use, really. Hari Nef brings up the great point that many trans and gender non-conforming people associate their birth name with their assigned gender at birth, and changing that name can be a pivotal process in transitioning. As Julia Serano states in Performance Piece: “ I am sometimes accused of impersonation or deception when I am simply being myself.” Being asked for a “real name” is a subversive way of saying “ I know you aren’t who you say you are.”

5. When did you know?

This question is interesting. It’s implications are subtle but essentially it is implying that there is some grand (binary) revelation. Discovering gender is typically not a moment of “Oh, I’m not really a boy, I’m a GIRL!” It is more likely multiple stages occured in the process of someone realizing their current gender identity.

6. What happens if you want to go back?

This question goes along with question 5, as well. As someone is going through the process of exploring and identifying their gender, they may question their actions and their desires, but that doesn’t make them any less of a man or a woman or a gender fluid person or any other identifier they use. Gender should not be treated like an on/off switch. In reality someone can transition from a more masculine gender to a more feminine gender and back to a more masculine gender, in a fluid manner. This does not mean they were a man, became a woman, and “switched back” to a man.

7. Where to you get the strength to be so brave everyday?

Although this question seems to be supporting trans and gender non-conforming individuals as they live as an oppressed group, it can come across as infantilizing or other-ing those who are not  cisgender. As much as anyone is trying to just live in a comfortable way, trans and gender non-conforming people, are doing the same. A trans person making toast in the morning is no braver than a cis person making toast in the morning.
After watching this video, I was reminded even more of Julia Serano’s Performance Piece. She gives several reminders to her readers that you cannot view gender as a performance, meaning everyone is actively living their gender, thinking things in their own mind— and it is not our place to question it or label it. Although the video does not take a stance on gender being a performance or construction, Hari Nef speaks of gender mostly as “how you want to be in the world,” which is a nice statement regarding gender as existence, not an act. Viewing the questions above, as questioning the way someone exists, reveals how aggressive and unpleasant they can be to hear.

Sources:

Julia Serano, “Performance Piece,” in Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive (Berkeley: Seal Press, 2013), 105–8